Another holiday season, another studio shutdown.
One of the many perks of working in the Vancouver games industry is the accepted norm of a week off with pay during the week between Christmas and New Years.
In the past I would simply kill the week with some side project and time spent with the extended family. But this year is different. My promotion to lead a TechArt team as a CG Supervisor came with an implicit understanding that free time is going to be a scare commodity come summer. In other words, I need to make the most of the flying opportunities while I can.
But with the break overlapping the Christmas season, tour and course options are limited. Luckily a week long search provided some fruit: a Valle de Bravo based XC Course being put on within the APPI licensing system by ParaglidingMexico under the instruction of Marko Hrgetic (Dec 26 to 30 inclusive).
Everything was packed and ready to go this past Friday morning when an email from the Canadian Gin Distributor, Brett Hazlett, appeared in my inbox stating that my recently ordered Gin Explorer had arrived. The initial plan was to take my steadfast Gin Carrera Plus (it is an absolutely remarkable wing and I am still surprised it has not gained more of a following in our region – especially given the rave reviews from Ziad @ DustOfTheUniverse) and I was still debating such when I picked up the Explorer from Brett.
Brett’s response, “When I have a new wing and I am about to embark on a trip, the only question in my mind is window or aisle seat.”
Point well taken, sir.
So here I sit in the Maple Leaf lounge in YVR with the Gin Explorer paraglider + Skywalk Range Air harness as checked baggage. Memories of picking up the Ozone Delta 2 on a Tuesday in June 2013 to then board a plane 2 days later for a SIV course under Jocky is not far from my mind. Looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made flying wise and I hope the same holds true for this trip.
45 minutes to departure and I sit outside Gate D50 in YVR. A short musing regarding how much impact the once derided Airport Improvement tax has had on the terminal. We normally don’t pay much heed in our rush to and fro gates, but sitting here today it is not hard to agree that it was money well spent (when compared to the likes of MEX).
With my section called, I make my way on board to 1D.
As fellow pax file onboard, OJ and water are offered along with the menu for tonight.
At one point I glance up to see a family of 2 adults and 4 children ask the flight attendant for help in merging their split seating. ‘Row 26’ catches my attention as does a rather irate infant being toted along. Wonder how much the folk stranded around the screamer would be willing to pay to move? In my case, one cannot put a price on sanity (an extension of ‘the quality of an experience is remembered long after price is forgotten’).
Take off and climb out are uneventful. The forward class flight attendant begins with drink service followed by meals. My late arrival, early start, and long day ahead makes for no alcohol tonight – water and my main course only.
5 hours fly by in a blur of repeated food and drink offerings.
030 hrs local time we touch down and I race off for immigration and customs. For naught it is, as it takes an hour to clear the near empty queue. Bag quickly collected (the benefit of the ‘Priority’ tag F/J class pax get) and off in search of the Camino Real hotel attached to the airport.
Opposite end of the terminal, upper floor, and across a skybridge sits my new home for the next 4 hours until my ride to Valle, Ignacio, lands from Argentina.
Till then … sleep.
0500hrs – up and prepping kit for the transition to Valle de Bravo. A WhatsApp message from a flying counterpart, Ignacio, who generously offered a ride indicates he might be slow in exiting Immigration. Looks as if his flight from Argentina was 15 minutes late and is stuck behind a trio of flights from LAX, SFO and ORD. 400+ people swarm the Immigration queue.
2 hours later we meet up and hook a shuttle to his car. A short diversion to Ignacio’s apartment to drop off his travel kit and we are off to VdB.
Racing along the toll way, Ignacio points out a white Dodge Charger following a high end SUV in the left lane.
“Private security. You do not want to get between them.”
Good to know.
After a quick stop outside VdB to gather Ignacio’s flying kit, we meet up with Marko and my fellow participants. Among them are Al and Xiaoting Jones – a Brit/Chinese couple who are much like I – travelling the world with PGs in tow. I came across their blog a year ago when looking up info on Steve Barton and XC Brazil. Small world, it would seem. A hilarious sense of humor and Xiaoting’s spitfire-esque nature leads me to believe I’ve lucked upon some great flying mates for the week.
With introductions taken care of, we pile into Marko’s truck for the ride up to launch. Near the top, Xiaoting points out the recently built snack stand and the washroom facilities (with running water AND soap). Looks as if the locals are keen to make Valle de Bravo *THE* must visit winter flying destination.
Up top, the launch’s namesake rock stands in the distance.
My photo taking excursion is cut short by Marko’s request that we pull out kit for inspection. It appears enough external course students have shown up with incorrectly installed reserves that Marko now pops over every participants reserve container to double check everything is good to go.
Equipment checked, forms filled out. Now for a briefing of the flight to come.
A fairly simple flight – launch, grab the first climb and bee line for El Penon. Keep mind to stay out of the lee while ridge soaring to the top, then hop over onto the Wall to grab a climb and buzz over to the ‘Crazy Thermal Place’. From there XC we will go – basically it is follow the leader for today. Marko mentions a key good trigger point along the Wall, named the ‘G-Spot’, but climbs can be rowdy. With house thermal names like this – I gather subdued flying we will not find.
Time to break out the Gin Explorer for her maiden flight …